Abercrombie and the Art of Fitting In
I opened a text from my sister a couple days ago. “Look at the picture Casey found! 😂” it said. It was an iPhone shot of an actual printed photo. “Oh my God, those pants were my favorite!” I responded. The picture was from 14 years ago. It was the spring of 2004 and I was a senior in high school visiting my sister at her college—in other words it was the height of me trying to act cool with the older kids.
The era was pre-iPhone and social media obsession. Facebook had just been created, but no one knew what it would become. Coldplay was huge and Paris Hilton was everywhere. And, everyone my age seemed to be dressed in clothes from Abercrombie and Fitch.
Including me. These favorite pants of mine—tight, low rise cream colored velour bootcut pants—were from Abercrombie, a store that symbolized everything you needed to be cool and beautiful. Trendy? Check. Thin? Check. Hot guys? Check. A laid back, NBD attitude? Check. When I slipped my Abercrombie pants on, I felt attractive. I knew I would be noticed because they showcased exactly what I thought was important—my thin body and my ability to keep up with the trends and the other cute girls. I knew what I was doing in life, right? I had these pants.
I had long since forgotten about them, their memory buried deep under what fills my mind now—diaper orders from Amazon, preschool forms to fill out, millions of meals to cook. But the second I saw the photo, I traveled back in time. I got the quick feeling of nervousness that my younger self so often had. I remember feeling fraudulent, as though I wasn’t really like the other “cool” girls. And it felt hard and exhausting to try to keep up with it all. I longed to just be myself, but felt like I couldn’t, because that wasn’t the version of me other people wanted. That version wouldn’t be accepted. She needed those pants.
And if I’m being honest with myself, I couldn’t even fit those pants over my calves today. Fourteen years and three babies later, I’m about 65 pounds heavier than I was in that photo. My stomach is softer. My boobs are lower. My thighs are thicker, my hips wider. My definition of beauty, and of what it means to be cool, bears no resemblance to what my 18-year-old self believed.
I have grown up. My life is fuller. I have gone from a shy, insecure girl who was seeking the approval of everyone around her, to a woman who isn’t perfect, and understand that’s not the goal anyway. Now, the approval I seek is my own.
But along with the laugh this photo gave me, it actually gave me a worthy reminder, too. It reminded me of how much more comfortable I am now—in who I am, in what I want in life—in my (slightly overweight) skin.
Beauty is no longer defined by a pretty face and the perfect Abercrombie wardrobe. It’s not validated by the amount of guys that check me out or how many compliments I get on my outfit. It’s about being the authentic version of myself and being okay with the fact that not everyone in this world is going to like who that is, or find that person beautiful.
But I do. And that’s the heart of what matters to me now, post-low rise pants.
I didn’t know that text was going to cause this serious introspective moment for me. I did laugh—pretty hard, actually—as I immediately saw the irony in wearing very very very high waisted jeans while looking at myself in those dangerously low rise pants. (And also because I also had a very mom-like reaction to a very non-mom version of myself thinking, if any one of my girls wanted to wear those now…)
But I’m also grateful for this mini-reflective moment that picture gave me. Because I’ve come a long way. And although I’m definitely still a work in progress, I’m really proud of where I am right now.
I kind of look at this young version of myself as if she were one of my three daughters. I feel like I want to give her a hug and tell her to chill out a little. I wish I could look her in the eyes and say, “Give yourself a break. A break from trying so hard, a break from keeping up. It’s all too tiring. You’re cool because you’re weird and funny and curious, which is much more interesting than just being pretty and thin.
...and take those pants off! People can see your buttcrack!”
Colleen Temple is the MotherlyStories Editor at Motherly and is currently at work on her first novel. She lives north of Boston with her husband Colin and their three daughters. Follow their adventures on Instagram.